For my Feminist Friday this week please welcome one of my favourite bloggers on the planet, and one of the nicest people ever… Caitlin from The Desert Dandelion. Enjoy!
Well hello there, Eeep I’m a Blogger readers! My name is Caitlin and I blog over at the Desert Dandelion. I have loved Feminist Fridays on Suzy’s blog, since as I see it, far too few people are writing about feminism and how important it is to both women and men.
The topic I want to touch on today is body policing, a phenomenon that I take as proof that women still have a long way to go in terms of equality and being taken seriously.
I’ll start with my own personal experiences, though I will say at the outset that they are relatively minor in comparison to many body policing stories you hear. In 2003 I was a young, 17-year-old camp counselor that still hadn’t worked through my awkward phase (nigh on 10 years later, I think I’m finally out of the woods). I made the decision to cut my hair short short, like pixie-short. I’ve kept it that way since, and it’s offered me a chance to see exactly what people think about my hair, and somehow by extension my lifestyle.
In college I can’t tell you how many people assumed I was a lesbian or a teenage boy. In Russia on study abroad, our housekeeper took one look at me on my first day and said, “little boy? No, little girl.” When people weren’t making assumptions on my lifestyle or my gender, they would ask why I decided to cut my hair.
Why? Because I felt like it. Because I suck at dealing with long hair. Because it’s cooler. To turn it around a bit, I ask why am I expected to answer for this? Simply put: I’m expected to answer for it because it’s generally assumed that all women want a full head of luscious, flowing locks. Short hair in that paradigm makes no sense, since when you’re a woman apparently your hair is and should be your only source of pride.
Fast forward to this summer, when I went all out and shaved my head. I was commended for how “brave” I was, and when people weren’t commending or silently condemning, they would simply ask “Why?” Okay, once I even had a waitress at P.F. Chang’s ask, “chemo?” before she asked “why?”
I’m sorry, but fucking why not? I shouldn’t be expected to answer to a faceless chorus every time I make a beauty choice that runs counter to the prevailing image of feminine beauty.
Thing is, the experiences I’ve outlined here are nothing compared to some of my lovely lady friends deal with. I have overweight friends who have their diets questioned, tall friends that are fetishized, and short friends that are patronized. Female celebrities are not above criticism either; a singer that gains weight and doesn’t immediately lose it following pregnancy is prime material for outright nastiness. Emma Watson (perhaps better known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films) received thousands of nasty comments when she cut her hair into a short pixie. Consider Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in the 2008 US presidential election, who were flooded with more questions and comments relating to their appearance as they were running for the most important office in the United States than they were with questions about their credentials and experience.
Interestingly, to my knowledge it’s only ever happened to my guy friends when they do something that’s considered…well, feminine.
It seems that if you don’t fit a very narrow image of what womanhood (or in some cases, manhood) is, people are free and open to openly question everything about your body and why you’ve chosen to desecrate it so. A friend told me once that we see women as “belonging” to the collective, and society therefore takes it upon itself to make sure women follow these rules that have been set down for them. It’s frustrating that once again, instead of facing this as an issue, it has become one more thing for women to just deal with smiling all the way.
I’d love to hear about your experiences as women or men–have you dealt with unwanted comments about your physical appearance?